Monthly Archives: April 2020

What’s On – Easter Day 2020

Easter Streamed Service – Birmingham District

The Birmingham District will seek again to offer Sunday worship at 10:30am
See their website for details.

The Easter Day service is best followed via Facebook
This service will include a Love Feast. Here’s the Order of Service.

Other Worship At Home Resources

Our friends at Family Friendly Churches are offering, free of charge, weekly prayers, address and a couple of hymns as videos (with words and music) for use within the home. These can be found here.

The Worship Cloud are producing a free weekly sheet as well as making our Local Arrangement services freely available. See here.

Roots On The Web are also generously making plenty available at their site here.

For other streamed services and worship resources, please see the Four Oaks Church Website.

Holy Saturday – Reclaiming the Silence

Holy Saturday is a pause in the Church’s Easter celebrations. There are no services planned for the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Some churches are open for a vigil (although not this year!), but there are no words, no music just silence.

Since the start of the reporting of the Coronavirus pandemic the airwaves and the internet have been filled with noise, some of it helpful much of it not so. May be today, Holy Saturday, is a day to stop listening, reading and viewing.

So with that in mind no more words only the deep, profound silence that is God.

“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10)

God bless and stay safe,

Alan.

Good Friday – Reclaiming Lament

As we enter the second great day of the Easter season again we are faced with a curtailment of our much loved traditions.

No walk around our town centres or visiting each local church in turn. No sharing with a nice cup of tea and a Hot Cross Bun. No singing of ‘There is a green hill far away”, we will miss them all.

One of the themes that has been stressed this easter season is that of Lament. Unfortunately in our western world lament has become associated with a particular style of church music or a self-entered “poor me” attitude. We need more than either these pictures give us. We need to recover the biblical tradition of lament. Lament is what happens when people ask, “Why?” and don’t get an answer. It’s where we get to when we move beyond our self-centered worry about our sins and failings and look more broadly at the suffering of the world. 

At this point the Psalms, the Bible’s own hymnbook, come back into their own, just when some churches seem to have given them up. “Be gracious to me, Lord,” prays the sixth Psalm, “for I am languishing; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.” “Why do you stand far off, O Lord?” asks the 10th Psalm plaintively. “Why do you hide yourself in time of trouble?” And so it goes on: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever?” (Psalm 13). And, all the more terrifying because Jesus himself quoted it in his agony on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22).

These Psalms of lament often bring us from darkness into light by the end, they do not explain the trouble but provide some reassurance within it. They give us a fresh sense of God’s presence and hope. But sometimes they go the other way. Psalm 89 starts off by celebrating God’s goodness and promises, and then suddenly switches and declares that it’s all gone horribly wrong. And Psalm 88 starts in misery and ends in darkness: “You have caused friend and neighbour to shun me; my companions are in darkness.” A Psalm for our self-isolated times if ever one was needed.

N.T. Wright in an article in Time Magazine points out that lament, as woven into the fabric of the biblical tradition, is not just an outlet for our frustration, sorrow, loneliness and sheer inability to understand what is happening or why. They reminded that much of scripture tell us that  God also laments.

I know that for some Christians this may be difficult to understand. Those who believe that God ‘is in charge’. Some of my friends are surprised when they tell me that the Coronavirus is part of God’s plan and I tell them that if that’s the case then God needs a better plan!

Genesis declares, over the violent wickedness of his human creatures, God was grieved to his heart. The prophets tell us that YHWH was devastated when his own bride, the people of Israel, turned away from him.

Jesus – God in full humanity – also laments. He is angry with the slowness of his disciple and the stubbornness of the people. He weeps at the tomb of his friend. And on this most poignant of days he quotes the most disquietening of the Psalms “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22).

It is not part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead. And in our lament share with the world the God and the Saviour who laments with us.

God bless and stay safe

Alan.

Maundy Thursday – “Let us Celebrate the (XFeastX) Fast

At this point in our Holy Week cycle of worship we would be meeting together for a service of Holy Communion for Maundy Thursday. This may be preceded with a symbolic meal together, often with other churches in the area. It may be a simple supper of soup or bread and cheese. In some churches it is a full Seder/Passover meal. Whatever our practice we realise that it will not be happening this year. It feels like the Lenten fast is stretching out for many more weeks.

Participating in the Lord’s Supper together is a ritual, to be sure. But it is so much more than that. It is a sacrament — literally, a holy thing — which God gives to us as a sign of the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ for us. Holy Communion is a means of grace, by which we receive the love of God through the power of the Holy Spirit in the midst of our common worship together.

So what are we to do now, when we are practicing physical distancing from one another as a way to arrest the spread of this terrible virus epidemic that has so interrupted our regular daily lives? Should we come together and celebrating Communion in spite of the practical dangers involved? Prudence dictates that we need to maintain our discipline for a few more weeks, particularly to protect the weak and vulnerable amongst us.

Should we use the technology available to us and change what we understand Communion to be and conduct Communion on line? Our Denomination has ruled that is not permissible. (‘Holy Communion Mediated Through Social Media’ – Faith and Order Committee Report Methodist Conference 2018) So what do we do this year?

Almost 600 years before the birth of Jesus, a ‘virus’ swept through the land of Judah. The name of that ‘virus’ was called The Babylonian Empire, and it wreaked havoc across the towns and cities of the Judah. By the time the Babylonian army had finished its work, the walls of Jerusalem had been reduced to rubble and the Temple had been burned to the ground. The people were carried into exile, and the Temple worship that had symbolised for the Jews communion with the God of Israel was denied them. It was the greatest disaster that they could have ever experienced — the inability to practice that form of worship that had stood at the center of their faith since it had been given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. What, then, was their response? Did they escape and return to Jerusalem, and rebuild the Temple even when the danger of the Babylonian Empire was still at hand? No. Then did they build a temple replica by the rivers of Babylon and carry out an imitation of true Temple worship as a way to fool themselves into thinking that they were doing what they had always done? This they did not do either. So what did they do?

What those faithful exiles did in fact was to embrace the fast that was forced upon them, and use that fast itself as a means of grace. The discipline that it gave them opened up new ways of receiving the Lord in the situation in which they found themselves — through the singing of the Psalms of David, and through the study of the Torah and the Prophets. These means of grace became as important as the Temple worship at the time that they were forced to be away from their common home.

We find ourselves in a period of exile, although ours is very mild and will surely be of short duration. Yet it is also undoubtedly true that we are away from our Temple, which is not a building of course, but is the body that we represent when we are together in the assembly of the faithful.

Our founder, John Wesley points out the way in which fasting was used in crucial periods of crisis and challenge, both in ancient Israel and in the early church. Wesley taught that one of the most important reasons for fasting is that it is a great aid to prayer. As one means of grace (fasting) assists the other (prayer), the two of them together serve the practice of “confirming and increasing, not one virtue, not chastity only … but also seriousness of spirit, earnestness, sensibility and tenderness of conscience, deadness to the world, and consequently the love of God, and every holy and heavenly affection.” (Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse VII). He insists that the church should practice fasting in the present, for it is one of those means of grace appointed by Christ Jesus himself. Wesley’s advice is drawn from the fruits of fasting as they are found in Scripture:

[F]irst, let it be done unto the Lord, with our eye singly fixed on Him. Let our intention herein be this, and this alone, to glorify our Father which is in heaven; to express our sorrow and shame for our manifold transgressions of his holy law; to wait for an increase of purifying grace, drawing our affections to things above; to add seriousness and earnestness to our prayers; to avert the wrath of God, and to obtain all the great and precious promises which he has made to us in Jesus Christ. (Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse VII)

What are we called to do on this upcoming Maundy Thursday when we should be celebrating Holy Communion as part of the remembering of the Passion of our Lord? We should do what Christians would have done in similar situations from the time of the early church. We should fast and pray, allowing our inability to receive the Lord’s Supper create a holy hunger inside of us that will make the celebration of Communion that much more beautiful when we do meet together.

Finally, we will be able to come together once again as the one body in Christ. We will be together not only in Spirit, but in flesh as well. And when we are, on that Sunday when we gather together again as the living Temple of the Lord, we will cry out, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” And the one celebrating at the table will lead us to say, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!” And the bread will be broken, and the cup will be blessed. And all that we do, from this time to that, will serve to prepare us to resume once again the meal that Christ himself gave us when he said, “This is my body, and this is my blood, do this in remembrance of me.”

Alan

Resources for Holy Week 2020

A compilation of resources to help you mark Holy Week this year – Maundy Thursday / The Last Supper and Good Friday in particular.

Streamed Services from some of our partner churches:
Four Oaks Catholic Church
The Ark Community Church, Four Oaks
Four Oaks Baptist Church

LOCALLY – See Streetly Methodist Church for Good Friday
This will be a YouTube Live broadcast at 11am

The Saltmine Passion Play Audio Drama
“Saltmine Theatre Company are bringing you The Easter Story to your front room.
We are excited to announce that over the last few weeks Saltmine Theatre Company have been producing a Passion Play audio drama for you to enjoy this Easter.
This drama revives The Birmingham Passion Play 2019 – our unique, contemporary re-telling of the Easter story which performed live to over 3,000 people and processed through the heart of the city of Birmingham.
The Saltmine Passion Play Audio Drama consists of three 15 minute episodes, spanning from Jesus’ triumphant procession to the crucifixion and resurrection. Each episode is accompanied by images of the 2019 live performance in Birmingham.”

Worship At Home Resources

The Vine At Home
Service for Good Friday (10th April) is provided here.

Family Friendly Churches Trust (FFCT)
Maundy Thursday: We offer a resource to lead a Passover at home on Maundy Thursday. There is a pamphlet with all the words you need on the evening that you can download and print along with a set of instructions and recipes.
Good Friday Video: We offer a full service for Good Friday based on the Stations of the Cross. All the images are taken from a community art project in Upwell and Outwell in the Fens Circuit of the Methodist Church and put together with a service led by Ann Bossingham to give a rich visual experience.
Go to http://www.ffctideas.org.uk/Corona.php for more details

Roots On The Web
A page of resources from Roots here.

Messy Church – for families and those with young people
So much here.

The Methodist Church – Nationally
More high quality resources here – please take time to choose.

The Methodist Church – Birmingham District
Many links here too.

An at-home service if you can’t get to a funeral

With the current restrictions on movement in place it may not be possible for everyone to attend a funeral. The Methodist Church offers this short act of worship to help you say your formal goodbyes while remaining in your home.  

At-home service if you can’t get to a funeral (Pdf)
At-home service if you can’t get to a funeral (Word)
LARGE PRINT VERSION At-home service if you can’t get to a funeral (Pdf)

What’s On – Week Beginning 5th April 2020

WORSHIP AT HOME

Bible readings, Hymns and Psalms from the Methodist Prayer Handbook:

Sunday 5th April (Palm Sunday): Matthew 27:11-54, StF 277, Psalm 31:9-16
Monday 6th April: Isaiah 42:1-9, StF 338, Psalm 36:4-11
Tuesday 7th April: Isaiah 49:1-7, StF 17, Psalm 71:10-14
Wednesday 8th April: Isaiah 5-:4-9a, StF 319, Psalm 70
Thursday 9th April (Maundy Thursday): 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, StF 572, Psalm 116
Friday 10th April (Good Friday): Isaiah 52:13-53:12, StF 285, Psalm 22
Saturday 11th April (Holy Saturday): John 19:38-42, StF 291, Psalm 31:1-4

Find Reflections on these passages on the Methodist Church Website

 Lectionary Readings for Today (Palm Sunday)
Matthew 21.1-11; Psalm 118.1-2,19-29
Read these Scriptures online
For some thoughts on these passages, have a look at Words On The Word

Lectionary Readings for Today (Passion Sunday)
Isaiah 50.4-9a; Psalm 31.9-16; Philippians 2.5-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66
Read these Scriptures online
For some thoughts on these passages, have a look at Words On The Word

The Methodist Church Worship At Home Sheet
This week’s sheet for you to download and print off at home is here.

Online Streamed Services
The Birmingham District will seek again to offer Sunday worship at 10:30am
Wesley’s Chapel London on Sunday at 11am
SwanBank Methodist Church on Sunday at 10:30am

Weekday Morning Prayers
09:00 Monday-Friday – from Wesley House Cambridge with Resources for following the prayers and readings.  
10:00 Monday-Friday – from Wesley’s Chapel London

Worship Resources
 These resources have been generously provided by the following:
Roots On The Web 
The Family Friendly Churches Trust 
The Worship Cloud – Free Vine At Home Resources
The Worship Cloud – Vine Service for Palm Sunday
The Worship Cloud – How To Fold Your Own Palm Cross
Illustrated Ministry’s Junior Church Activity Sheets

“The Crowd was with Him”

This coming Sunday is one of the high points of the Christian calendar, Palm Sunday. Then would follow Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Day, all occasions when we would meet together as the Body of Christ.

It is completely ironic that at a time when we want to be together to celebrate and share in the body of Christ we cannot.

Like all ‘successful’ viruses Covid-19 has found a way to hijack part of our body – the lungs, to grow and reproduce. Like all coronaviruses it has also found a way to hijack our humanity, the basic need of closeness and community. We have found ourselves having the resist the natural compulsion to embrace or even shake hands. Our desire to be with others is suspended as are family gatherings for birthdays, baptisms, weddings and funerals.

It also means that we cannot gather together as the body of Christ to remember his passion or celebrate his ressurection. I would be lying to say that watching worship on line was as fulfilling as being there in person.

One unnerving thing about this virus is it makes us feel that our bodies are betraying us. This is true not just for our physical bodies but also our social and ecclesial bodies. Assembling for worship, that is, becoming the body of Christ, with the people we love now carries risk for ourselves and others. Celebrating the body of Christ through bread and wine is now potentially dangerous.

So how can we continue to be the body of Christ as this crisis unfolds? How do those of us who need the body of Christ like we need bread and water continue to receive it?

Firstly, while the church services may be one of the clearest places to encounter Christ , it is not the only one. We can re-embrace the presence of Christ in the Scriptures. Many Church publishers, are providing resources free on line and we have the thoughts on the Sunday lectionary readings by Revd. Stephen. Also many churches are streaming worship online, so we can feast at the table of God’s word even if we cannot receive Christ’s bread at our Easter Communion.

We can also celebratethe body of Christ in countless ways in our community. One way, paradoxically, is to protect the body of Christ by fasting from worship and avoiding physical contact with each other.

But there will be plenty of other opportunities to be the body of Christ in serving the vulnerable in the coming weeks, even if from an appropriate distance. Jesus teaches us in Mt 25, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” How can we use our time to support those in our community who are more vulnerable? How can we use our resources to support those in our community who are economically vulnerable?

In this time in which we are not able to encounter Christ at worship or in Holy Communion, we always have the opportunity to encounter Christ in the vulnerable, even in ways that protect ourselves and those we wish to help from further risk. A meal or groceries left on a doorstep, a contribution to a fund for unemployed workers, a check-in with an isolated older person or a friend who has suddenly become a homeschooling parent—we can all do something, for someone, in this time.

This Lent, we are being forced into a strange sort of fasting from the body of Christ in our worship. We might notice the hunger, the absence that comes from this fast so as to appreciate it yet more deeply when, in Easter joy, we are able to receive the body of Christ in these ways again. Fasting now may help us appreciate Christ’s presence in our church and our worship that celebrate it more clearly after this too has passed. It may not happen on the “official” date of Easter, but the lesson of the rhythms of our church is that Easter joy and feast follows Lenten sacrifice and fast like the rising dawn follows the darkness of night.

May God keep us all safe in these difficult times. May we be the body of Christ to each other and the most vulnerable around us. And by doing so, may we come to receive with greater gratitude the body of Christ wherever he meets us.

Grace and peace to you,

Alan.